The Bothy on the Hill

Càrn an Righ

The King’s Cairn

The Shieling Cairn

without a lord
without farmers
without dwelling
without anyone
to answer

Càrn Gille gun Thriubhas

The Breekless-lad’s Cairn

some stones laid
to remember the lad
of the dissident plaid
who came out

The tales of kings and queens belong to the shieling. Sometimes names are so ancient that the thread back to their original meaning is fankled or cut through by gaps in the historical record. Dictionaries and maps only take us so far and we may find ourselves in a linguistic thicket.

No matter how we long we look at the name Càrn an Righ there is no way to be sure which of its possible meanings is correct: is it too wild for a shieling – the ground is rougher than some of the moss-on-gravel tops around about? Or who would the ‘king’ be? The only case I have seen made is for Malcolm Canmore, who Charles Plumb says was happy hunting in this deer forest, though even Plumb is keener that the hill should be a memorial for the famous poacher, Ian Mackeracher, known as Lonach Fhiadh, greedy for the deer, who lefty his trusty gun hidden in a cave on Càrn an Righ. 

A few miles north-west, on Bràigh Coire Caochan nan Laogh, there is a cairn with a ridiculous sounding name: Càrn Gille gun Thriubhas, the cairn of the lad with no trousers. It has a serious origin, for it is supposed to commemorate an act of resistance when a young Jacobite refused to obey The Disarming Act (1747), which made it a punishable offence to wear the fhélidh-Mor – the Highland kilt. The Hanoverian regime forced all Highlanders to take an oath:

I have not, nor shall have in my possession, any gun, sword, pistol or arm whatsoever, and never use tartan, plaid, or any part of the Highland garb; and if I do, may be cursed in my undertakings, may I never see my wife or children or relatives: may I be killed in battle as a coward, and lie without Christian burial in a strange land far from the graves of my kindred.

It was here out on the hill that this unknown lad took off the hated trews in an act reminiscent of Blackie’s description of the ‘chivalrous devotion and a noble self-sacrifice’ of the Highlander’s, which ‘was no doubt one of the main causes which led to the brilliant blunder of 1745, from which the greater part of their present humiliation is to be traced.’ The folk of Braemar were renowned for their ardour for the kilt during this period of proscription, so much so that the authorities were forced to concede they could wear the garment, but reduced from its proud colours to a drab grey check.

In his memoir of the years he spent in Glen Feshie Richard Perry suggests how easily local knowledge of names can slip from memory. A few miles northwest of a hill dedicated to an ancient queen, Sròn na Ban-Righ – proving there were royals here long before Victoria –who is recognizable by her profile, the pale queen’s nose, there was once a small township named for Tom-fad, the long hill. The name no longer appears on the Ordnance Survey map, though Perry says that ‘the greenness of its 1,300 foot boss, rising steeply from two little glens that almost encircle it, makes it a landmark for miles. In his day only the Drumguish folk and local historians were aware of its existence and ‘none but shepherds and keepers pass that way now, when gathering sheep or setting traps’ – he was writing almost seventy years ago. The map printed in his book gives the name a chance to live on. 

The Knowe Hut
The Bothy on the Hill
The Moor-place Ferm-toun
The Ferm-toun of the Great Wood
The Lime Ferm-toun

The Field of the Poet’s Cow
The Cow-pen Haugh

HM Queen Elizabeth II
has to choose which explanation to give her guests when they enquire of the original meaning of Balmoral.

The name has previously been written as Bothmoral, Bouchmoral, and Balmurrel. Listening in to these variations MacKenzie thinks they referred to the moor-place, but he is basing his translation on the Old Norse, mór, for moor, which is unlikely. Adam Watson doffs his cap to no-one when he gives the ironic bothy on the hill, as if time had hidden a hut within the grandeur of a palace. In a piece of wish-fulfillment Stirton gives three possible translations: baile, town, and moral, great, stately, which is close to MacBain’s large clearing, or Bal-mòr-choille, the ferm-toun of the great wood, or deer forest. Macdonald cites other local place-names that integrate the Gaelic coille, wood, such as Genechal, pronounced djennahill, the old wood, and he thinks its possible that the name embraced all of Ballochbuie forest, which would have pleased Victoria. Stirton’s third option is the large town for lime, from the Gaelic aol. There are quarries in the neighborhood but the name is surely older? 

(For clarification we could enquire of the estate’s actual owners, Rt Hon. David George Coke Patrick Ogilvy, Earl of Airlie, Sir Iain Tennant KT LLD, and Sir Michael Charles Gerrard Peat CVV, Keeper of the Privy Purse, trustees appointed by the Queen).


the hill where
the bothy stood

Coutts estimates that, totaling all of the visits Victoria made, she spent 12 years at Balmoral. 
Up the hill, Charles Windsor has to choose between McConnochie’s translation of his holiday house, Inchnabobart, which is either the field of the poet’s cow, according to McConnochie, or cattle-dyke haugh or haugh of the cow enclosures, from Innis Bo-baird, if you believe the more reliable and less deferential Adam Watson.

William Alexander: The Place-Names of Aberdeenshire
Alexander MacBain: Place Names: Highlands and Islands of Scotland
James Macdonald: Place-names of West Aberdeenshire
Alex Inkson McConnochie: Deeside
Ian Murray: Old Deeside Ways
Richard Perry: In the High Grampians
Rev. John Stirton: Crathie and Braemar: a History of the United Parish
Adam Watson: The Place Names of Upper Deeside

Càrn an Righ: Alen McFadzean, from Because they’re there blog
Tartan: AF, 2015
Tartan: AF, 2015
Balmoral: courtesy of Getty images
Drystane fank, Inchnabobart, Glen Muick: Hannah Devereux 2015
Drystane fank, Inchnabobart, Glen Muick: Hannah Devereux 2015

Gathering was commissioned by Hauser & Wirth, for the Fife Arms Hotel, Braemar; the project was launched in 2015 and will conclude in 2018.

The artist residency at University of Aberdeen is funded by The Leverhulme Trust; the project was launched in July 2016 and will conclude May 2017.